“There are little Indian girls out there who look up to me, and I never want to belittle the honor of being an inspiration to them,” she says. “But while I’m talking about why I’m so different, white male show runners get to talk about their art.”
The following is a real-time, semi-edited chat conversation between myself and The Aerogram’s contributor G.B. discussing Kaling’s comment.
G.B. I think that’s kind of a bullshit statement from her. I understand she’s frustrated, but them’s the breaks of being a trailblazer. Deal with it.
K.V. Really? I thought the opposite.
G.B. Listen, I understand it’s frustrating, but it comes with the territory of being one of the first. You take on a certain added responsibility whether you like it or not.
K.V. I mean, she said she doesn’t want to belittle the honor of it.
G.B. Still, you can tell there’s frustration behind it.
K.V. Because that’s probably all she’s asked. And then again, people are still criticizing her for not being inclusive enough on her show.
G.B. What do you mean?
K.V. I feel like she’s held to a higher standard because she’s a person of color. For example, some people think that The Mindy Project should have a more “diverse” cast and be overall more sensitive. I get the feeling she gets hounded for that kind of little stuff in her interviews.
G.B. Someone on The Aerogram made a good point that she’s kind of starting from a disadvantage, and she has to do whatever she can do to get viewers. That’s how she can best service the goal of being a successful person of color. The unfortunate truth is if she had all brown people, less people would watch.
K.V. True. But I mean, I don’t think it’s like she’s not embracing being on that platform and being a role model. It’s just — maybe that’s all some people want to talk about. And she’s more than just some quota filler. I don’t know. I kind of empathized.
G.B. First, the fact that she’s “The first brown whatever, whatever” is getting her added exposure. So, the disadvantage to that is you’ll be asked about it. Second, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
K.V. It’s not a surprise. It’s just that — nobody is going around asking Seth Rogen about how it felt writing This is The End as a white man.
G.B. Because there’s been a million before him.
K.V. But they talk about the product and they judge him on the product
G.B. She talks about the product a lot. I feel like people are judging her on the product
K.V. I guess she just wants to talk about the product more.
G.B. Then talk about the product. No one’s stopping her. But understand that because she’s “the first,” she has an added responsibility and she knew that going in. Remember when Frank Ocean came out? Some people said, “Oh that’s great, but wake me up when it’s not a big deal anymore. That’s when we know we’ve made progress.” Unfortunately, we have a LONG way to go before it’s not a big deal. But Frank Ocean was the first step towards that.
K.V. She was born in Massachusetts. She’s as WASP-y as they come. Except for the Hindu part, she’s as privileged as they come — she went to Dartmouth, the child of professionals. She probably said everything she wanted to say on the “Diversity Day” episode of The Office (which Kaling co-wrote).
G.B. But that’s the thing, if she wasn’t as WASP-y as they come, she probably wouldn’t have been given this opportunity. In the movie 42, there was a scene where Branch Rickey (the owner of the Dodgers) had to find “the right kind of black guy” to be the first African-American baseball player – someone who would be accessible and the least offensive to the white public. But, again, that’s the territory that comes with being the first.
K.V. Right. If anything, she’s the anti-role model. Her character does everything good desi parents don’t want their kids doing. I guess that could be trailblazing.
G.B. She’s trailblazing in a lot of ways. And yes, it sucks that she has to talk about it. But she’s getting a hell of a lot more exposure because of it.
K.V. Not on her talent alone? And her writing?
G.B. Without those talking points, people would ask her less questions, not ask her more about the show.
K.V. I like to think if she were a young, white woman, she would get the same amount of attention. She’s the brown Lena Dunham, but more palatable.
G.B. Say she’s being asked 10 questions and five are about being a brown woman and five are about the show. If she were a white guy, she would probably only be asked just five questions, not 10 questions about the show. It’s more stuff out there about her. There are hundreds of shows out there competing for talking points and exposure time. Her being the first to do a bunch of this stuff gives her an added talking point over those 995 other shows produced by white men.
K.V. Initially, my thought was “Go Mindy — you tell ’em.” In my mind, she’s super privileged — as model minority as they get and I’m not losing sleep worrying about her in the slightest. But I understand the defensiveness. It’s the same as someone coming up to me and saying, “You got into law school because you’re a minority.” And then I have to say, “No, I got into law school because I graduated magna cum laude and was the graduation speaker of my class.” And then they’re all like, “Well that extra cultural heritage was a plus point that got you in and I didn’t because I’m a white guy.”
G.B. I don’t think anyone ever said she got that show because she’s a minority. I think everyone realizes she’s talented. But let’s be honest, New Girl is the more successful, more polished show. You don’t get all these articles on Zooey Deschanel or whoever the showrunner is behind that show. And whoever says that to you is just ignorant.
K.V. True, that.
G.B. doesn’t stand for Gareth Bale. It might stand for Graduated, Barely (from law school). After spending time in Texas and Pennsylvania, he now lives in Northern California where he makes gifs and watches a lot of TV, movies and sports.